Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Crown must explain decision

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The horrifying case of the slayings of two Winnipeg women came to a halt, grossly dissatisfying for many, including their family members, when Shawn Lamb pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 20 years on the reduced charges of manslaughter. How, people asked, could he get manslaughter in the separate, brutal homicides to which he confessed?

The Winnipeg Police Service took the unusual step Friday of explaining their part in the investigation. Lamb had told police in June 2012, when arrested for an unrelated sexual assault, he knew where a body was and led them to the corpse of Carolyn Sinclair, prompting a homicide investigation. Police said Lamb later called investigators from the Winnipeg Remand Centre and said "he had more information to relate about the homicide and other crimes that he had committed."

But Lamb, according to police, said in exchange he wanted cash for use at the centre's canteen. Police said they took the request to prosecutors before agreeing and were told how to go about taking the statement from the suspect. Lamb confessed and two second-degree murder charges were laid.

The plea bargain was struck, court was told, due to the likelihood Lamb's confession would be tossed by the court because money was paid for his statement. In total, police paid $1,500 -- Lamb was paid for two subsequent interviews as well -- to an account for canteen privileges.

The law bans "inducement" for confessions. The question now before the public and the families of Lorna Blacksmith and Carolyn Sinclair is what advice did the prosecutions office give to police, given the law on inducement? And how could charges of murder have been authorized? Charges are authorized when the Crown believes there is a reasonable chance of conviction.

Police say they knew at the time that this "extraordinary" move carried risk, but hoped the information would lead to the collection of more useful evidence against Lamb, evidence that did not materialize, and felt compelled to act to solve two cases of the many murdered and missing aboriginal women.

The Crown's office has refused to explain its role. Manitobans might take comfort in the fact a killer is behind bars nonetheless. Paying for a confession, however, sets a troubling precedent police may regret in future investigations.

Prosecutors are expected to give reliable legal advice in such consultations. It is incumbent upon the director of prosecutions to explain his office's role in this case.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 16, 2013 A16

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